Friday, February 25, 2011

How Not To Win Friends and Influence People in the Facebook Age

The other day I blogged about a complete and total jackass ex-classmate of mine who contacted me out of the blue on Facebook looking for a favor (which I granted----several favors, actually), only to have her throw it in my face. I'm still reeling from the sheer audacity of this person, but having chatted with some other people about this very issue, combined with some other rude and/or disrespectful behavior that I've dealt with online lately, I thought I'd do another post about it.

The Internet and Facebook in particular are great for keeping people connected (especially people who've been out of touch for a while----Facebook has helped me rekindle several wonderful old friendships over the past couple of years), for spreading news (personal, national, and otherwise), for marketing (I've got 4000 Facebook friends and 2500 Twitter followers, most of whom read my books), and even for engaging in friendly political debates. Like anything, though, Facebook and the Internet in general are just tools. They shouldn't be used as weapons (but unfortunately, they often are). And they're also easy tools to abuse.

Over the past year or so (and the past couple months in particular) I have seen far too many people use Facebook chiefly as a means for using and taking whatever they can get (including people), without ever once thinking about the consequences of that behavior. It's just "me, me, me" all the time----and fuck everybody else, basically (sorry, but I think the F-bomb is appropriate here). If I get one more out-of-the-blue request for a favor/gift/advice/whatever from another ex-coworker who treated me like crap in the office when we actually worked together, or barely-remembered classmate who was one of the "cool kids" back in school (here's a clue: I wasn't one of the "cool kids"), or complete and total strangers who email me demanding that I drop everything and give them my full, undivided, and completely uncompensated attention (and then harrass me when I don't), I am going to scream.

Here's the thing, people. I'm a very busy woman. I work an average of 50 hours a week these days (my freelance writing business has really taken off). Plus I've got a toddler (and no child care, natch---though that's finally changing starting next week). And I've got a husband, and a marriage, and bills to pay, and a house to take care of , yadayadayada. Time is the absolute most precious thing I have. If you want some of it, be prepared to pay handsomely for it. And on the off chance I decide to give you some of my priceless time and/or expertise for free (and I'm known to do both on occasion), you sure as hell better appreciate it.

Furthermore, I'd like to talk a little bit about the true meaning of friendship and camaradarie. One of the things Facebook is great for is keeping you in close touch with your friends----new and old. As I've said, I've rekindled many wonderful friendships that way over the past year. On the other hand, some of those same friendships abruptly ended when people "defriended" me for no reason---at least no reason I could see. I've guessed it may have had to do with my strong opinions, left-wing politics, Buddhist/agnostic religious beliefs, tendency towards dry humor, whatever----but these are people who have known me long enough to understand that's a part of who I am. I certainly don't defriend people just for their politics (as leftie as I am, I count several right-wing Republicans as my friends), or their religion, or their occasional tendency to fly off the handle sometimes (after all, I'm occasionally known to do the same.). These same people wrote to me seeking advice, asking questions about things I'm an expert in (like writing)---which I freely gave, seeking nothing in return but their friendship----and I didn't even get that.

Then there's the people who ask if I can help them with something, which I agree to do (also for no pay). We agree on a time, which I set aside from my uber-busy schedule, and then they either don't show up or reschedule at the last minute. And reschedule again. And again. Ad nauseum. After a certain point, I am no longer interested in helping them (for obvious reasons) but yet, they still ask. Ask, ask ask, take take take----and they give nothing back.

You know what I call people who do shit like that? Users. Users and takers. Superficial, one-dimensional, self-absorbed people. The same types we all see on reality TV shows and laugh at/despise. They're not just on reality TV, folks. They're everywhere. (And if you don't see it, it might be because you're too busy staring at your navel.)

We've become too polarized as a society these days largely because people seem to have lost the ability to see things from anyone's point of view but their own. Both sides of the political spectrum spend a lot of time demonizing the other side, without ever once trying to understand where the other side is coming from or finding any common middle ground. I even have friends who refuse to associate with people who are not carbon-copies of their own political/religious/whatever selves (they're all lefties like I am---except ironically, I'm usually further left politically than they are). Which I think is a real shame. They're missing out on meeting some great people that way.

I don't expect everybody I know or am acquainted with to agree with me all the time. Hell, I don't even expect my husband to agree with me all the time (if I did, we'd have divorced years ago). I think I have a much richer life as a result of that attitude. People of diametrically opposed viewpoints and belief systems can be great friends---even lovers or spouses. (I know this well, trust me). And yet, there are people with whom I've had friendly online debates with (I wouldn't even call them arguments---and people who know me well know that I love a good argument, provided it's done respectfully) drop off the face of the earth, defriend me, block me, pretend like they never met me, without one drop of explanation----even if they wrote to me seeking advice/help/whatever just a week earlier. I've also noticed that these same people often seem completely unwilling to compromise on anything, ever (I think it's no coincidence that many of them are still single and/or divorced well into their 40s and 50s, natch)

People, can we not do this? Can we all at least make an effort to do better? I try to do better every day. I don't always succeed, but at least I try. And before you judge me or cry foul that I'm even bringing this topic up, know this. Anyone who has known me personally for any length of time knows that I am very generous with my friends and colleagues. I am thoughtful, I am loyal (almost to a fault), I respect people (including their differences), and I treat them with dignity. I go out of my way to do it, in fact. Is it too much for me to expect other people to do the same?

Think about it.


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